For all of Apple's infamous secrecy, the company couldn't mask the arrival of the next iPhone. As expected, the big number five was the centerpiece of today's festivities in San Francisco, and Tim Cook and gang certainly had plenty of nice things to say about the latest harbinger of iOS. The question, of course, is whether the souped-up handset is enough to maintain Cupertino's position in the seemingly ever more cutthroat smartphone wars. Check out some of our editorial impressions of the announcement after the break.
I've been proudly telling anyone who'd listen that Apple would never change the screen, produce a two-tone device or call it the iPhone 5 -- and clearly I was talking out of my elbow. I let my Vodafone contract lapse two months ago ready for this handset, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit to having a sneaky eye on the Lumia 920 instead. It's not that I'm underwhelmed by the hardware, but after being locked out of Siri 12 months ago, I was hoping for a revolutionary leap that was a little more future-proof. When I give in and wind up buying this, I'll be spending a fraught few months hoping they don't build anything too magical into iOS 7 since I'm reasonably sure my bank balance can't take it.
I genuinely feel that Apple's hitting its stride with phones, and perhaps more importantly, I'm downright thrilled to see how Nokia, Samsung, HTC, Motorola and the rest react.
Look, there wasn't a lot that surprised me at today's event, but I'm pre-ordering an iPhone 5. I want the LTE radio. I want the extra pixels. I want the new camera. But most of all, Apple made it really easy for me to justify using my AT&T upgrade on this: it's a flagship, 4G-enabled phone that's launching at $100 less than many of the Android-based flagships. Sure, I could enjoy most of the iOS 6 spoils on my existing iPhone, but the new one is faster, sleeker and just sexier. Do I need it? No. But as a technology lover, I really am impressed with the design. I genuinely feel that Apple's hitting its stride with phones, and perhaps more importantly, I'm downright thrilled to see how Nokia, Samsung, HTC, Motorola and the rest react. Competition is wonderful for consumers, and without the iPhone 5, there'd be less reason for those other guys to seriously buckle down and produce something that they view as superior. (But look, I'll be the first to admit that I'd just get a dumbphone for voice and an iPod touch if Apple ever puts an LTE data chip in its top-shelf media player.)
Was it everything we expected? Yeah. Was it everything we'd hoped for? Not quite, but at the very least, Apple's gone a ways toward making up for some of the lingering disappointment still floating around the ether from last year's iPhone 4S event -- an announcement that left us wondering whether the company would be left behind in the smartphone wars it helped kickstart. Sure, this is the device Apple should have delivered last year, rather than the largely incremental 4S, but the 5 arrives with the sense of a company not quite ready to rest on its laurels in the mobile department. It also, perhaps more importantly, signals that Cupertino is adapting to the mobile market -- a fact perhaps no more clearly demonstrated than with the increase in screen size, which many have pointed out, seems to fly in the face of past comments by Steve Jobs.
Disappointments? We've got a few. There's no NFC to be found and that adapter -- well, you know... For the most part, however, Apple delivered precisely the handset it needed to in order to help tamp down concerns that the company is falling behind in a world of increasingly stiff competition. Has Apple set the bar again? It's tough to say for sure until we play with the thing -- and in an ever-diversifying field, it's nearly impossible to make such a blanket statement. Certainly the iPhone will be the handset suited to some needs -- and at the very least, I think it's pretty safe to call it the best iOS handset out there.
Well, I can't say that Tim Cook won me back to the iOS ecosystem, but the iPhone 5 announcement certainly wasn't a letdown in the same way that the 4S was. The addition of LTE alone is huge for the Cupertino faithful. It's easy to dismiss such an upgrade as playing catch up (and, make no mistake about it, this is Apple playing catch up), but the company was able to add a true 4G radio without sacrificing battery life. Eight hours isn't the longest talk time on the market, but it's certainly better than many LTE handsets out there. And, most importantly for the company's quest for ubiquity, it'll be available on Verizon, Sprint and AT&T in the US with the high-speed radio -- an advantage it'll be taking away from Samsung. It's also great to see the iPhone move to a larger screen. As the RAZR M has proven a "large" display doesn't have to mean a large phone. In fact, as the competition has gone bigger, I've found it harder and harder to go back to the tiny 3.5-inch panel of the 4S and its predecessors. It's also an undeniably smart move to go with an aspect ratio that's much closer to the standard widescreen of 16:9, which should make it a much more enjoyable device to watch videos on.
As exciting as the iPhone 5 is, there are definitely enough changes here that the ecosystem -- the main selling point of an iOS device -- will suffer some growing pains.
It's not all wine and roses, though. As exciting as the iPhone 5 is, there are definitely enough changes here that the ecosystem -- the main selling point of an iOS device -- will suffer some growing pains. The larger screen will send devs scrambling to update their apps to make use of the extra real estate. Apps designed for the less elongated displays of iPhones past will still work, but they'll be presented in a less-than-ideal letterbox format. And we haven't heard any word about how apps designed for the iPhone 5's dimensions will scale down to the 3.5-inch panels of older models. Then there's the new dock connector, which basically makes an entire cottage industry of accessories obsolete instantaneously. Lastly, I'm left wondering what the lack of NFC means for the future of the standard. It seems as if it's about ready to take off, and Apple has been notoriously late to the party on many other standards (see LTE, above), but with so many iPhones in circulation this could hurt the adoption rate, just as mobile phone payment systems are getting ready for prime time.
From a typical user's perspective, there's not much not to like about the iPhone 5 -- it's super-fast, has a 16:9 Retina display and, finally, LTE. But for me, and other folks who spend most of their time on the road, collecting SIMs abroad faster than passport stamps, that nano-SIM is a bit of a deal-breaker. Most international carriers only pack full-size SIMs, or, in some rare cases, full-size SIMs with a pop-out micro-SIM. I can't even imagine how long it'll be before carriers in developing countries offer nano-SIMs in corner stores -- the already arduous process of tracking down data upon arrival will be infinitely more complicated. That said, the 5 is gorgeous, and I (however briefly) considered purchasing one after holding it in hand. If Apple somehow manages to convince carriers to make prepaid nano-SIMs accessible in even the most obscure locales, I may consider retiring my Galaxy Note and making the switch back to iOS, but for now, I'm a happy Android user, if only because of that global compatibility.
A common refrain I've heard on Twitter is that the iPhone 5 is reactionary, rather than revolutionary. That's accurate on at least one level. Apple virtually had to introduce a bigger screen. It had to introduce LTE. The camera features, like capturing photos in mid-video and taking panorama photos, have been in other phones for months or more. The iPhone's biggest update may simply be the processor speed, which, at twice that of the 4S, could just put Apple ahead (however temporarily) of its Android rivals. We're ultimately missing the inescapable, gotta-have-it exclusive, unless you count iOS 6, and the pace really needs to pick up for next year.
Although 32GB of space is nice, I'd have rather seen Apple drop in a $249 16GB iPod touch -- or at least, scrap the older 32GB edition.
At the same time, Apple may not have needed to do more. I see the iPhone 5 as proving that you don't need to go supersized to build a high-end smartphone. Think of it as fixing every flaw that the HTC One S had: Apple didn't have to compromise on cameras, cellular speeds or the display to get a thin, full-performance smartphone that fits in one hand. Even Motorola's Droid RAZR M sacrifices screen quality and some thickness. The Galaxy S III, RAZR HD and One X will be waiting for those who want a bigger canvas, but they're not necessarily better anymore. You now have to explicitly want a giant screen rather than consider it a side benefit (or drawback) of getting LTE or a faster processor.
If there's anything that has me scratching my head, it's the new iPod touch. Technically, the new model is a slam dunk. That camera and screen turn it into an obvious substitute for both a dedicated camera and an MP3 player. But at a $299 minimum? Although 32GB of space is nice, I'd have rather seen Apple drop in a $249 16GB model -- or at least, scrap the older 32GB edition. The iPod nano, as nice as it is, has lost the wearability that some loved so well. While dedicated media players are on their way out, I'd still have liked more clarity of purpose.
When it comes to the software, Apple's maps, a more capable Siri, Passbook and deeper Facebook tie-ins aren't moving the needle over here either, although the platform lock-in from iOS to OS X has tightened.
The iPhone 5 is finally official, and whether it's due to leaks detailing every element of the hardware, or that we'd already heard about many of the most compelling parts of iOS 6, or just overall gadget fatigue, I'm not particularly impressed. Taking a class-leading design then making it lighter, thinner, bigger (vertically) and adding LTE to the mix is nothing for Apple's engineers to be ashamed of, but -- in a rare case after an iPhone press conference -- I'm not even particularly looking forward to the competition snagging one or more of those bullet points for themselves. Externally, competition like the Galaxy S III and Nokia 920 are each at least as impressive in their own ways, and when it comes to the guts of the phone, if the best case study for the A6 CPU's power is rearview mirrors in a racing game, then I'm comfortable passing.
When it comes to the software, Apple's maps, a more capable Siri, Passbook and deeper Facebook tie-ins aren't moving the needle over here either, although the platform lock-in from iOS to OS X has tightened. So, is this the go 'round that any single company takes a chunk out of Apple's market share? I'm not so sure of that either since a truly revolutionary idea (making the screen bigger, touting a better camera and wireless charging, or any implementation of NFC seen so far don't quite cut it) is hard to find. Until users or developers find a way to make sense of the capabilities we've been given, someone wake me when the next Nexus hits.
I'm pretty sure that, outside of Darren, I'm the only one on staff who is totally excited for a new iPhone. I'm a simple man, and I like simple things -- having spent some time with the Lumia 920 and new RAZRs earlier this week, I can certainly appreciate the approach of other hardware manufacturers. Both the 920 and the RAZRs are nicely designed pieces of hardware, and the smart phone market is looking more and more diverse by the day. No doubt credit is due in their direction. That said, the simplicity of the iPhone is what draws me in, and the iPhone 5 is yet another entry from Apple in a long line of "Stuff I want to put in my house."
So ... uh, I'm pretty clearly pre-ordering one. You probably guessed that already though, eh?
Does the iPhone 5 offer a lot of new bells and whistles, or any major design changes? Not really, no. It does make some slight improvements to things that, frankly, could use some improving. The screen size, for one, is an important change for me. When I use a nice Droid or WP8 phone, the majority of my interest focuses on the lavish screen size -- while the new screen isn't anywhere near as large as the Lumia, for instance, it's a small step in the right direction. And for me, that new A6 processor is a full-on sell point. I play lots of games on my phone (what's a 3DS?), and the new, doubly powerful processor makes an already powerful gaming device into a miniature next-gen console. So ... uh, I'm pretty clearly pre-ordering one. You probably guessed that already though, eh?
I've yet to meet a person that felt the iPhone 4S was too damn thick, and yet the company changed it anyway...I'd like to see a manufacturer tout insane battery life the same way it does the form factor.
We can all breathe now. The iPhone 5 officially exists, and once again, the Earth can resume its rotation. Hyperbole aside, today's launch was incredibly important, and almost without exception, Apple rose to the challenge. That's a hard thing to pull off, especially when -- unlike in the Android world -- the company has only one chance to get it right. While I genuinely doubt that it'll cause a significant number of Android users to jump ship, that's entirely beside the point, because today was about Apple and its fans. Everything we saw today -- from the addition of LTE and a larger screen, to the fantastic industrial design -- will most certainly keep the fan base satisfied and enthralled. It's true that the iPhone will never be all things to all people, but that's okay. There are alternatives.
Speaking for Apple users, the only thing that disturbs me is the company's near freakish obsession with thinness. I've yet to meet a person that felt the iPhone 4S was too damn thick, and yet the company changed it anyway. This trend certainly isn't exclusive to the Apple world, but just once, I'd like to see a manufacturer tout insane battery life the same way it does the form factor. They aren't mutually exclusive; it just requires a balancing act. Don't let me rain on the parade, though. I trust spirits are running too high for much of that.
What struck me most about today's event was just how few surprises there were. That's not a complaint, just an observation of the sheer number of leaks that turned out to be spot on. The ear buds, the new "Lightning" cable and, of course, the iPhone 5 itself didn't just turn up in blurry photos beforehand, but in detailed shots and videos that showed them off from all angles in what we now know to be their near-finished state. That, naturally, lends some further credence to similar leaks of a smaller iPad -- which, incidentally, appears to bear a striking resemblance to the new iPod touch. In hindsight, Tim Cook's famous comment about doubling down on secrecy may well have been about those leaks that were already out of the bag -- if not, the company would seem to have quite a bit more work to do.
On the software side of things, it was also a case of having seen much of it before -- albeit this time from Apple itself in its previews of iOS 6. We did see a new iTunes today, but Maps still seems like a step backward for the time being, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who would like to see some bigger changes to the OS itself beyond an extra row of icons. But, as with the hardware, it was more than enough to meet expectations, and will surely not be enough to put a damper on sales. As for myself, I'm certainly interested in trying out iOS 6 on my 4S and seeing an iPhone 5 first-hand, but I can't say I'm feeling the urge to upgrade just yet.
Small expletives of relief passed my lips each time Tim Cook confirmed one of the iPhone 5's not-so-secret upgrades. A 4-inch display, an LTE radio, FaceTime over cellular connections -- finally the iPhone is getting with the times. That's not to say that its previous five iterations weren't solid devices -- they most certainly were and are, but switching between an iDevice and a large-screened Android device left me wanting. For a trendsetter, Apple's handset felt out-of-style. Cupertino's sixth smartphone definitely brings it up to speed, attractively stretching its body to adopt a new screen size while retaining the iconic iPhone style. The iPhone 5's sleek new hardware isn't enough to sever my ties to Google's ecosystem, nor are iOS 6's new features -- but together, they may be able to rekindle the envy I once felt of my iPhone-toting colleagues.